Cincinnati Reds: Jonathan Villar could bridge the gap to José García

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07: Jonathan Villar #30 of the Toronto Blue Jays dives for a ball. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07: Jonathan Villar #30 of the Toronto Blue Jays dives for a ball. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

While many view Jonathan Villar as more of a second baseman, the veteran infielder could fill in as the Cincinnati Reds starting shortstop in 2021 until José García is ready. While not an ideal candidate to fill the void at shortstop, the Reds have shown an unwillingness to spend money this offseason, so Villar may be a better fit than some fans want to believe.

The Reds have been rumored to be in the market for the top three free agent shortstops this offseason. Didi Gregorius’ representatives have supposedly had contact with the Cincinnati front office. Over the last couple of weeks, the Redlegs have been rumored to be in negotiations with Marcus Semien and also have interest in signing Andrelton Simmons.

Jonathan Villar represents an inexpensive option at shortstop for the Reds.

It seems as though Bob Castellini is not too keen on spending money this winter. To be fair, after shelling out $165M last offseason and receiving no gate revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic and a seventh-place finish in the National League, it’s understandable that Cincinnati’s ownership is a bit gun-shy when it comes to doling out big contracts.

Jonathan Villar, who had a rather unproductive 2020 season, will be looking to reestablish his value during the upcoming season. After acquiring Villar in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles last offseason, the Miami Marlins agreed to pay the switch-hitting infielder $8.2M last season.

In 30 games with Miami, Villar posted a slash line of .259/.315/.345 before being shipped off to the Toronto Blue Jays. Over his final 22 games of the 2020 season, Villar hit just .188 and put up an OPS of .481 while recording just six RBIs in 69 at-bats.

For his career, Villar has a slash line of .259/.327/.400, 80 home runs, 283 RBIs, and a 95 OPS+. Cincinnati’s starting shortstop last season, Freddy Galvis, has a career slash line of .247/.291/.385 with 95 homers, 386 RBIs, and a career-OPS+ of 82. The Reds felt perfectly comfortable approaching the 2020 season with Galvis as the starting shortstop, so why not Villar ion 2021?

Jonathan Villar is not the longterm solution at shortstop for the Reds.

By no means would expect Jonathan Villar to be the shortstop of the future in Cincinnati. In fact, you could make the case that he profiles better as a utility infielder than a starter. While that may be the case, the Reds are not looking to break the bank on a starting shortstop.

Furthermore, with top shortstop prospect José García waiting in the wings, it’s doubtful the front office wants to commit to a player beyond next season. By all accounts, Didi Gregorius and Marcus Semien will be looking for multi-year deals on the free agent market, especially with the influx of shortstop talent (Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa) hitting the open market next winter.

Of the top three shortstops available this offseason, Andrelton Simmons makes the most sense in terms of a short-term solution to Cincinnati’s problem. Simmons, who’ll be looking to establish a better market value after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, may be willing to sign a one-year deal.

That said, signing Jonathan Villar will be a whole lot less expensive than signing Andrelton Simmons. Simmons is a four-time Gold Glove Award winner and quite possibly the best defender in the game, period. It’ll likely cost upwards of $10M to sign the stalwart defender to a one-year pact.

Defensively, Jonathan Villar is not going to wow anybody. In fact, according to FanGraphs, in 3,200-plus innings of playing the shortstop position, Villar has -14 defensive runs saved (DRS). Most of that, however, came during Villar’s rookie season when he posted -8 DRS with the Houston Astros. Since then, Villar has been slightly below-average defensively.

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Should Jonathan Villar be the Cincinnati Reds No. 1 target on the open market? Absolutely not. Could the Reds do worse than Villar as their Opening Day shortstop? Absolutely. Villar could be the perfect bridge to José García while at the same time helping Cincinnati avoid a longterm commitment to a veteran infielder.